From Fear to Flow: Personality and Information Interaction

Tony Anderson (School of Psychological Sciences and Health, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 28 June 2011




Anderson, T. (2011), "From Fear to Flow: Personality and Information Interaction", Library Review, Vol. 60 No. 6, pp. 533-534.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


This useful volume examines the influence of personality on information seeking behaviour. In a sense, the book is slightly broader than its title implies, since it alludes to both personality (and in particular, trait‐based stable dispositions) and also the influence of more transitory emotional states such as anxiety on information seeking behaviours. For a library professional, who is interested in having a useful summary of psychological issues related to information searching behaviour and a route into the relevant technical literature within psychology via its references section, this book is certainly worth recommending.

The book focuses in particular on Costa and MacRae's five‐factor model of personality (which argues that our personalities are characterised by our positions on each of five dimensions: neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness). Whilst this is by no means the only model of personality available, it is a theory that has gained a fairly wide degree of acceptance as a way of characterising personality in non‐clinical populations, and given that it identifies personality dimensions that are also identified in other models of personality (in particular, neuroticism and extroversion), it serves as a good choice for exploring the interactions between personality and information seeking behaviour. Heinstrom's book opens with a clear potted summary of the basic five‐factor model, and then proceeds to devote a chapter to each of the five factors, in the order openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism or “negative affectivity” as it is called here. For the purposes of clarity, the author sketches the consequences for information seeking of individuals located at each extreme of the relevant personality dimension; it is, however, worth bearing in mind that the majority of people would be more likely to be located nearer the centre of the relevant dimensions (a point conceded by the author herself in the final chapter) and that therefore the extremes represented by the poles of the five dimensions would be unlikely to obtain in practice very often.

The book then goes on to discuss other aspects of personality that are not covered by the five‐factor model, and in particular need for cognition, self‐efficacy and self‐confidence, locus of control, monitoring and blunting and uncertainty orientation. Some of these chapters are quite short, reflecting the fact that there is not yet a large literature on how these supposed traits affect information searching behaviour. The author also rightly notes areas of uncertainty and contradiction within the literature itself.

The author acknowledges a number of caveats, including the importance of interactive effects among the various personality dimensions. One major caveat that she acknowledges in Chapter 1 really needs to be borne in mind by the reader throughout, namely that the effect of personality on information seeking behaviours is not strong in an absolute sense. The literature that she cites reports correlations between personality and information seeking behaviour that are of the order of +0.3, meaning that personality explains roughly 10 per cent of the variance in information seeking behaviour – or in plain language, the effects of personality on information seeking behaviours are measurable but fairly weak on the whole. Situational interventions, such as training, and contextual factors are likely to have at least as big an effect. In fairness to the author, she does explicitly concede these points in various places within the text, but they still have to be borne in mind as the reader encounters the various generalised claims regarding the effect of personality that are made throughout the book.

Overall, this book represents a good introduction to a growing body of literature and would be useful for a library professional who wishes to familiarise him – or herself with the literature on the psychology of individual differences (both trait, i.e. stable and enduring and state, i.e. short term and transitory) and the possible effects these could have on users' search processes. Recommended.

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